Musings on Meatball Sundae

For 2012 I made a couple of New Year's resolutions.

I'm not going to lie, most have fallen by the wayside already - however one which seems to have stuck (for now at least) is reading more books. First up - Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin.

I figured I really ought to read this - not just because everyone else already has done, but because whilst I don't think SEO is dead - I do think that our remit as SEOs is changing. The most common question we're asked as SEOs is 'Why doesn't my site rank?' - and I'm guessing our most common response (technical issues aside) is 'No one's linking to you.'

However that response, whilst true, is often a symptom of a much bigger issue - namely that the site doesn't deserve to rank.

There are many reasons why a site might not deserve to rank - a product or service that's undifferentiated, lacks a USP, is un-targeted, the site looks like a MySpace page, there's no content (I could go on). Perhaps we ought to answer like this instead -

"Your product / service and site content is unremarkable. Your site doesn't speak to your consumer. You've failed to engage with your audience."

Even if it's true, it's difficult to say in polite company - it's like calling someone's baby ugly.

But if you really want to move the needle, you need to make big changes. Meatball Sundae is about exactly that - Making large scale changes.

"New marketing doesn't demand better marketing. It demands better products, better services and better organisations."

~ Seth Godin

In his book Seth identifies the key trends which he sees are scuppering many companies efforts online. Here's a quick and dirty run down:


Trend One - Direct communication & commerce between producers and consumers

This is about permission marketing and the elimination of middle-men. Rather than trying to dig up customers for existing products, companies can create products specifically for sub-sets of customers - like Threadless.


Trend Two - Amplification of the Voice of the Consumer

Thanks to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc - consumers all have a voice:


Trend 3 - Getting your story straight, everywhere

Saying one thing, but doing another fails - because you'll get caught:

Get your story straight everywhere.


Trend 4 - Extremely short attention spans

Complex messages rarely get through. Keep it short and simple. Break down barriers to entry.


Trend 5 - The Long Tail

If you're an SEO you already get this. There's more opportunity in the long tail - 'nuff said.


Trend 6 - Outsourcing

"Either what you're doing is repetitive, in which case you ought to outsource it, or it's homemade, insightful and filled with initiative and judgement, in which case you can charge for it." ~ Seth Godin.

Actually I got a little lost in this chapter. Outsourcing can be perilous - not everything can be outsourced. I think he's saying figure out what you can outsource to save costs, but keep your eye on the ball.


Trend 7 - Google & the dicing of everything

This feeds into the Long Tail idea. It's also given rise to businesses which only deal with the long tail. Think companies that sell single plates so consumers can replace the specific pieces of their fine china that they've broken.


Trend 8 - Infinite Channels of Communication

This trend is about very targeted messaging. Think AdWords - putting your product / service right in front of the people who are searching for it right now. It's infinitely cheaper than running TV ads which hit lots of people somewhat indiscriminately, right?


Trend 9 - Direct communication & commerce between consumers

Online has opened up new, peer-to-peer business models. Think betting exchanges like BetFair, e-commerce sites like eBay and Etsy.


Trend 10 - The shift in scarcity & abundance

This is about exploiting scarcity and having the flexibility to move and change your organisation if what was once scarce becomes abundant.

Think bricks and mortar music shops versus iTunes... But what's next? Could cloud subscription services like Spotify be the future?


Trend 11 - The Triumph of Big Ideas

In a noisy marketplace you need big ideas that make people sit up and take notice - think Oyster disrupting the crowded hotel booking marketplace. This is the trend which I feel is probably most important.


Trend 12 - The shift from how many? To who?

Mass is no longer desirable or (perhaps) achievable. Here Seth highlights that media like AdWords is more cost-effective than say TV or print advertising.

It is of course difficult to argue with a statement like that, but the marketer in me can't help but feel that it's a little simplistic. More on this later :)


Trend 13 - The Wealthy are like us

I don't feel like the title of this trend really encapsulates the key point - essentially Seth says the bell curve on price is reversing so -

"The middle (which would have been mass-market previously) is now over-priced and under-exclusive."

I think he's highlighting general consumer fatigue with the mediocre. Stuff either needs to be dirt cheap (because we still love cheap if we don't care too much about the product) or amazeballs and exclusive - in which case we'll part with our hard-earned (because if we care about it we'll happily pay extra for it).

Right now too many brands are in the mediocre middle. They lack differentiation. Consumers don't care about them. These are the guys which are probably struggling to rank. (NB this is my spin on it).


Trend 14 - New Gatekeepers / No Gatekeepers

I did like this as a trend, I'm just not quite convinced it's 100% true. Seth says that thanks to YouTube we don't need the old boy network anymore. He claims that you don't need to get your face on TV or in magazines... And that's almost true. I think that it's just that there are more gatekeepers.

For example, if you're a singer you need to go viral on YouTube, then hopefully Ellen Degeneres will have you on her show and sign you. Old media's still influential. Also virality is an imprecise science  with far more misses than hits :)

Nevertheless I think it stands that if your idea isn't good enough to go viral then you'll have big problems.



Ok - so this post is turning into a monster. What do I think? I think it is a good book. It is something which I think you should probably read (no, reading this blog post doesn't count).


However I do think that traditional marketing tactics are still valid and important today. Yep - I'm going to say it. Out loud. On an SEO blog:

"TV is still an important part of the Marketing Mix"

~Hannah Smith

There are still companies out there who have managed to differentiate themselves based largely on successful TV campaigns, rather than making material changes to their products or services:

Old Spice

Here's a brand who managed to re-position themselves based on some fantastic TV ad creative, plus some lovely online engagement in the form of bespoke videos created specifically for influencers.

Compare the Meerkat

Insurance aggregators are all essentially the same so Compare the Market got creative with meerkats - but the product hasn't changed.


Nice re-positioning of pay day loans.


What do each of these companies owe a large chunk of their success to? TV advertising. Sure, it isn't the cure-all it once was, but I think it's fair to say that none of the brands above would have seen the success they've seen without it. Do all companies *need* TV advertising budgets? No, but I think they play a larger part than Seth seems to indicate.


What's good about the book?

It encourages you to think bigger - a beautiful, interactive infographic executed well and with sufficient promotion will get you links, but it won't stop your product / service / website / customer service from sucking. You'll need to fix that too and that's much harder than creating something pretty.


What's missing?

I love the idea of encouraging companies to think bigger, be better etc. However I feel that the process of  influencing people to make these sweeping changes is glossed over...

"...understand that the challenge isn't to persuade the CEO to get his act together; it's to start doing the right stuff in the trenches... and watch it filter up." ~ Seth Godin.

Is this really the best idea? Just go and do stuff? That might not go down so well in some organisations. I might be reading this wrong, but I think the process ought to include getting buy in from senior Execs and some guidance as to how to go about this would've been a welcome addition.


Did you read this whole post? Even after I said that thing about TV still being important?

Wow. You deserve this picture of a kitten:

But seriously, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Meatball Sundae and what I've written here. I'd also really appreciate recommendations of other books I should read.


Image credits - Meatballs & Kitten

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